Bonnaroo Music and Art Festival
June 11 2016
Day two of Bonnaroo for me bloomed as hot as expected. I spent a little time making calls and charging my devices as music doesn’t really start around here until early afternoon. For my first set of the day I wandered over to the What stage to catch the first show of the day, Grace Potter.
I had seen her with the Nocturnals years ago at the Life is Good festival in MA. But I know she has traversed many miles since then. She opened one of the two largest stages for the day and came out with a hot band, loud and adept. The first part of the set focused on her pop material, with one song after another that was radio friendly and leaned more on Grace as a front woman. As the set wore on the band and Grace would work from that type of pop heavy rock and pop queen to full band hard rocking, to singer songwriter.
This level of diversity is Potter’s greatest asset and her most perplexing quality. You really get the feeling that she can do anything during a show, take a shredding guitar solo, a wisdom tooth exposing vocal flourish, or a full band orchestration. Potter and the band achieve all of these things and more. But it is also confusing as a listener at times, you’re not sure what show you’re watching. The songwriter is good but somehow didn’t grab me. The band gelled and could rock, but didn’t fully engage me in a way that I wholly craved. Lots of people did connect, and I hope some day that I figure out the mystery that is this show.
I did not get the memo- I hear later that Jason Mraz did a surprise show in one of the tents during the Grace Potter set. I’m pretty disappointed now that I missed that show, but at the time it is so easy to shrug because the day is so filled with amazing musical offerings. I took advantage of a lull in the schedule to visit the meds and get some foot repair going. I’m happy to report that the medical staff was super nice, efficient and had anything that I needed and others seemed to be getting great care also.
I did some people watching and wandering Centeroo. I found my way into the Comedy tent, and got a special surprise during the Judd Apatow show. Read the article on the surprise appearance by Eddie Vedder here.
Next I made my way to the Angry Orchard lounge and met a few cool music fans, a group of dudes celebrating their collective 50th birthdays. They told me about a band called The Record Company who would be upcoming, and after resting a bit in the shade I went on over to the Miller Light New Music Lounge to catch their set. There was a good crowd and the trio were rocking hard already. Drums meet bass meet guitar in a swampy bluesy set that fits right into the new retro-blues movement of the last decade.
It was no surprise to hear of the Record Company’s Chris Vos proclaim his love for Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter. His guitar tone is raw and classic and the tunes are bathed in the waters of the Delta. Keep an eye on this band as I expect you will hear them alot in the coming year.
A run toward the What Stage brought me to see Band of Horses. Another band that runs the lonely highway between Delta Blues and lonely Americana. Slow and seething, Band of Horses were throwing down for the legions of fans who were baking in the afternoon sun. The band was good but my lack of knowledge about them and their music kept me from fully engaging. Perhaps half way into Bonnaroo I needed a little something more to connect to a set.
I went back to Centeroo and caught about ten or fifteen minutes of Two Door Cinema Club at the Which Stage. The lawn was hot but packed full of the younger portion of the Bonnaroo crowd. Two Door Cinema Club is another synth pop band, this time hailing from Ireland. I was completely unfamiliar with their material but it fit right in with St Lucia so far as a synthpop resurgence that is happening in popular music right now, drenched in 80s goodness.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats was the perfect prescription. The band was in one of the tent (pavilions really) and the audience was thick even before they started. The Night Sweats didn’t so much start the show as they ambushed the stage. Energy was palpable and Rateliff easily captured the attention and admiration of the huge crowd.
The Night Sweats are a band who are easy to understand- a full fledged rhythm and blues review in the vein of the Blues Brothers. The material all sounds familiar whether it’s one of the hits that are igniting radio or previously unknown material that is set within tried and true song structures that are familiar to the listener but are providing quality vehicles for Rateliff’s vocal skills.
So I noticed a conflict in the schedule from the first moments I examined Saturday’s options. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis started about fifteen minutes before the end of the Night Sweats’ set. But I figured that Rateliff would end with their strongest material and it was likely that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis would take a minute to get going so I decided to stay at the tent and was rewarded with “S.O.B.” which was the climax of a great show, filled with energy and great songs.
I hustled my way over to the What Stage to catch the Macklemore Ryan Lewis show which had already started. I began my recording as I made my way across the vast field. Chance the Rapper was on stage, showing up one of the many times he appeared unexpectedly. Now readers may be surprised that I was at all interested in Macklemore, pop hip hop not being among what we normally cover here at LMNR. But, I knew my daughters were going to want to hear a report, and I had been singing the infectious hook from Thriftshop all weekend (I’m gonna pop some tags..)
So when I settled in I was able to chat with my audience neighbor who said I’d only missed about three or four songs. I asked “Anything good” and aside from everything being good according to the assembled, I heard the news that I had missed the Thriftshop opener. Dang it! Well, you can’t have perfect luck all the time I guess.
The stage show was big and Macklemore was delivering some positive vibes for the next song or two. It got quiet on stage and I heard security start saying “Clear the field, head to your vehicle, evacuate calmly.” What the? I could then see dark clouds on the horizon and some lightning. The news was reiterated by Macklemore on stage and tens of thousands of people left the concert field in a pretty calm and orderly fashion. I hustled my way over to my campsite and secured everything for the approaching rain.
We chilled in the RV with friends, and we could hear some rain coming in but it never really got as heavy or dangerous as was feared. The festival communicated easily with us via their social media feeds on facebook and twitter and after a relatively short period of time we were informed that the danger had passed and the schedule would resume in their entirety. With the one song that I really wanted to see from Macklemore already passed and the unexpected storm, I felt I had permission to not go back to their show.
I ran into a vendor friend and we hung out for a while and then I caught an amazing fish taco at one of the food vendors. It was one of those “where the heck did my fish taco go? could I possibly have eaten it that quickly” sort of meals that made me wonder if I should just buy and eat another one before I could reconsider. I let my conservative side win and went on over to the What stage to close out Saturday night.
I lived in Seattle for a year around 1996, and lived in the Pacific Northwest for the rise of Pearl Jam. I loved their early records, and have a deep respect and appreciation for their ability to continue to tour and release records. I had never seen them though and I was soon going to fix that Pearl Jam hit the stage like a house on fire, opening with a blistering and speedy version of Go. The band was loud and fast and deeply rewarding.
Songs like Save You, Corduroy, and Lightning Bolt got the show onto a lively pace. The stage was lit in full huge rock show effects that enhanced our appreciation of the music without stealing focus at all. Another trio of more recent material in Given to Fly, Nothingman, and Mind Your Manners led to the more familiar early hit, Even Flow.
This is when we really started to get a feel for Vedder and the band’s personality more than just observing them as a series of rock songs. They played the song Arms Aloft by Joe Strummer and you learned as much about Pearl Jam as you did about Joe Strummer (of the Clash) from their choice of this lesser known song for most fans.
And now we were into the meat of the show, the headlining set of all of Bonnaroo. And the hits started coming, hard and fast: Daugher, Why Go and Jeremy all come off with the fire and energy that you want from one of hte hottest bands in rock and roll. The set list indicates that the set closed with Porch. But I can tell you that as an audience member I had no idea that the set ended and that the show was allegedly over.
On the recording I can note a few minutes pause but when the band begins what is ostensibly a mini set encore, as an observer it felt as if the show was just continuing. Oceans gave way to Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town. I was totally blown away by Pearl Jam’s performance of the seminal classic Comfortably Numb. Guitar solos flew around and Mike McCreedy showed me that he is one of the most under appreciated guitar slingers in rock and roll. Do the Evolution came next and each song felt like the likely last of the night.
But the band kept playing on.. Better Man illustrated that the band can delibver on material whether it’s old school, middle period or brand new. At one point during the show Vedder pulled his daughter on stage to celebrate her birthday as the crowd crooned to her enthusiastically. It helped us all to come together ourselves, feeling as if we were in a big Pearl Jam family celebration.
Perhaps my favorite Pearl Jam original, Black unfolded in its fullest glory. Vedder and company easily deliver all of the angst and emotion of their classic material. They continue to prove that as one of their biggest hits Alive kept the crowd in a frenzy. The set closed with another cover, Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World seemed to the perfect ending to an amazing two hour show. I somehow danced and ran all over the place more in the last few songs of their marathon show late into the night than I had at any other point during the weekend.
Headlining a huge event like Bonnaroo requires that a band deliver a classic, a show for the ages. Pearl Jam hit on all cylinders, much more than I expected and proved that they belong on the Mount Rushmore of classic rock band with the Stones, U2, the Dead or Floyd- able to deliver a huge rock show with skill and muscle.
I let myself be carried by the pace of the crowd and found my way into Centeroo. Somehow while people watching and cattle drifting I ended up at the Superjam site. One of the tents was hosting a super jam like no other ever. Kamasi Washington’s whole band was the house band and a roster of musicians from the festival cycled through. I caught a funky version of Johnny and June Cash’s Ring of Fire as I was approaching the show, hearing it from a distance and dopplering my way to the show.
The first song I saw included an Aretha Franklin classic Never Loved a Man with Tiff Lamson of the Givers singing and showing why she was there. Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City by Bobby Blue Bland was of course handled by the addition of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Isaac Hayes’ Shaft came next and featured guest appearances by Chicano Batman. How can you not be in a great mood when you hear Shaft?
Patrice from Kamasi Washington’s band handled ‘Taint Nobody’s Bidness What I Do recorded originally by Original Memphis Five. I was feeling then, as it was pretty darned late with the rain delay. I knew that for the sake of Sunday I needed to get some rest. I heard Oh Wonder join the band to handle Dolly Parton’s classic Jolene which faded in my hearing as I walked back toward my campsite. I hardly remember getting into the tent, after probably more than ten hours of music over the previous 14 hours.
How could I have yet another day of this tomorrow? Somehow, I would try to manage.